Sunday, 7 January 2018

Ethiopia - Part 2

How many people does it take to fill up a tank of petrol? Well if you are in Ethiopia, the answer is 30! That's if you are buying black market in a small village and you just rocked up on an iron steed!

Actually I got an even bigger crowd when riding through a village with my visor up and got something in my eye! It felt like someone had stuffed an amazingly hot chilli in there. My eyes watered and naturally closed up. It stung so badly I felt it in the nerves all over my head! I pulled over making appropriate, 'arghhhh' noises and blindly jumped off the bike. I sucked water out of my Kriega bladder, spat it in my hand and frantically washed out my eye. Hair everywhere and dirt creating patterns on my face as I washed out the offending article. Eventually I could see again and looked up to survey my surroundings. I found maybe 50 surprised faces staring back at me. Someone from the crowd shouted 'What happened?'. I explained and smiled apologetically at the drama.  As one, they decided I was not crazy and moved in to get a closer look! A friendly bunch, clearly glad of the distraction for the day.

To be honest I don't know where to start in closing the Ethiopian chapter. For the many travellers I
met along the way, it was a place that became too much after a while. They grew weary of the dust, the hard roads, the lack of showers and the constant request for money. I can understand that, and if it had been a different time for me, then perhaps my perspective may have been slightly different. It certainly was tiring I'll give it that! Aside from the nights I was out dancing with the locals until 3am(that only happened twice btw!), I was tucked up in my tent or a crumbling hotel room by 9pm and asleep by 9.03pm! This last month though has been an epic part of my journey. It's been just the right amount of challenging, a nice cool temperature (because of the altitude), and above all it has been different. That is a hard thing to find after four years on the road!

Christmas in Lalibela was lovely. It was my fourth Christmas on the road and one I shall treasure along with all the others (Australia, Mexico, Canada). Ethiopia does not celebrate Christmas until the 7th January. They are also still in the year 2010, have new year in September and their clock is set six hours ahead of what you would expect - so when we think it's 5pm, their time is 11pm. Confused? It took me a while!

Christmas eve was spent around the campfire listening to Christmas songs previously downloaded. This was nice for a while but I was first to get tired of it and EVENTUALLY persuaded the group to let me put a mow-town mix on. Still nice and chilled and of the right vibe but JUST NO MORE JINGLES! Erin and David cooked two separate meals (Davids was a duck that he had been saving in his tiny freezer for 9 months! It had travelled with him all the way from France). Both were delicious and we even had pudding of banana and melted chocolate (cooked on the fire of course). Three course meal! Amazing effort. It was a fun night and I snuggled up in my sleeping bag that night content and glad to be in such good company.

The following morning I snuck out of my tent early, found my one clean pair of socks and stuffed them with previously bought 'local' chocolate then hung them on the other two vehicles with a note saying 'Merry Christmas love Santa'. I don't think they believed me when I asked for the socks back and said that Santa had borrowed them!

From Lalibela we rode up to Mekele in convoy. I am the fastest vehicle as I can take the dirt roads faster, nip between the pot holes on the tar, and just about manage the switch backs with a little more speed than a 130 defender! Only just mind! I never was a fast cornerer! It was fun to nip back and forth between them, race off ahead, get pictures as they came along the dirt roads and occasionally just find some shade to chill in for a while as they caught up. It never took long. David was leading at quite a pace that day.

Mekele was our base to get to the Danakil Depression. This area requires an armed escort because if you stray off the path you are likely to get shot. It's unclear by who but this is exactly what happened to a German tourist just two weeks before our arrival. There are many different stories as to who shot him but it seems he had a new guide who get them lost. The tour guide was also shot in the leg but got out alive.

There are a few things to see here. I opted not to climb the volcano as it is a very expensive deal and I
didn't have any walking shoes (I lost them in Nairobi). Instead I went to the lowest point in Ethiopia at 125 meters below sea level. It is a geological depression that has resulted from the presence of three tectonic plates in the Horn of Africa. The plates meet here at the junction and it is the hottest place on earth! We drove in as far as we could and then walked the rest. I followed the small but tough looking man with the gun over the lava until suddenly a wonderful splash of colours came into view. Hot springs with a mixture of Salt, chlorine and sulphur bubbled away in a vision that was out of this world. We were warned not to touch the water as it would burn like acid! I took their word for it. It was a stunning to look at though!

From Mekele we drove to Axum for New Year. A busy little tuk tuk filled town with a cheap hotelhidden away in the back streets. David (the German in the green bus who had caught up with us again) had saved a firework from Mauritania and so we let that off from the roof before the two of us went in search of some local music and alcohol! Our first stop was a rather bizarre club that offered a local dancing performance and blaring speakers. Local dancing involves a lot of shoulder movement and it wasn't long before I was joining in (the beer helping me forget my injuries!) and apparently doing rather well at it! :) It was Zanzibar all over again, with a mostly young male crowd (much to Davids dismay) and a lot of attention on me. Of course I loved it! We joined a group of locals to the next club, which turned out to be a fairly modern affair on the inside and the dancing really got underway! We repeated this the following night and I thought I was going to have to let the convoy go without me the next morning, having only had 6 hours sleep in 48 hours. Somehow though, with the help of a coffee from Chris out of the Land Rover, I pulled on my riding jacket and got myself on the road again! Riding always cures the hang over, especially when it's off-road!

Our drive that day was a long one but the roads between Axum and Gondar are stunning. The dirt road section that takes you through the Simien Mountains has to be one of the most breathtaking rides, with views that go for miles, overhangs covered in dripping rainforest like shrubs, big drop offs from the steep and narrow track, and the ever present threat of landslides! It was wonderful!

We spent a couple of chilled days in Gondar, ever hopeful that we might find a warm shower or even one that any running water at all! We didn't BUT better than that, we caught up with an Israeli guy we had met on the road previously. Shy was there with his family who were visiting and travelling with him for a couple of weeks. What a character! Travelling around Africa is difficult enough. Often there is no power, water or working toilets. The roads are rough and you really have to roll with the punches. Shy however, is doing it all from his wheelchair. With the help of his travelling companion and support - Sam, he drives an adapted vehicle and even has a roof tent. I didn't ask how he got up there but nothing seemed impossible to him. He even attempted getting to the top of the Volcano in Danakil by getting strapped to a camel. He gave up after half an hour though as it was too painful and he was worried about more permanent damage. Shy used to be in the military but was diagnosed with a condition that gradually got worse over the years, leaving him with wasting muscles and wheelchair bound. He used to be a biker and rode a lot of South America before his body let him down. We had many great conversations and he has offered me a place to stay in Israel with use of a bike whenever I want. I look forward to that. I get some surprised looks as a woman on a motorbike, but having walked into town with him in his electric chair, I realise he is far more interesting to the locals than I could ever hope to be! We giggled at this as we compared notes and exchanged stories.

David (green bus) and I went for a wander that afternoon and ended up being invited in for coffee with a local family. It was a real treat and another example of the kindness of strangers. Something that has been a genuine theme throughout my entire journey. These are the moments that are the most special. The sites are great, but warmth of people all over the world is amazing!

The border into Sudan was interesting but no real hassle. The only minor delay was when the guards had to down paperwork and go pray. We took the opportunity to find some lunch and by the time we came back it was all done.

I am now in Khartoum and back on my own again. I do however, have the regular company of the Sudan Bikers who are ensuring I don't get lonely! Very hospitable!

One of the best parts of Ethiopia, has to be the friends I made along the way. Chris and Erin (from Colorado) in their Land Rover, David in his big green bus (from Germany), David and Fal in little something or other (from France and India), Mike and Sue in their ex ambulance Land Rover (from Canada) and many more! It was a pleasure crunching some miles with you and crossing paths OVER AND OVER AGAIN! :) Not much of Africa left now and it seems we are destined to part. See you on the road guys! I will miss you all.


  1. Another great read, and beautiful photos, thank you!

  2. Brilliant post and u seem to properly have your mojo back!

  3. Thanks again, Steph. As per Phil above excellent text and photos. Ride Safe.

  4. Oh for heaven's really know how to ruin a quiet snowy day back here in Canada ;-) looks like you are having NO fun at all! Ok, WOW. Enjoy the adventure Steph!

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